Friday, October 4, 2013

Entry # 179 - "Unintended Consequences"

Writers are like gardeners in that they depend a lot on hope and sunshine as they plant seeds, water, and add fertilizer in its various forms. Much of what happens after the words or seeds are planted depends upon luck, skill and knowledge of the gardener or writer. But unintended consequences occur, because no matter how much you know or think you know at a given moment, you can never know enough. Which is to say, ignorance is not bliss. It creates most of the trouble in the world. 

I learned this lesson the hard way in an early story I wrote years ago. I intended that a particular character’s trouble bordered on tragic. But I didn’t know enough. I painted her with too much “word paint” and instead of coming across as a tragic figure, she ended up being oddly funny. I discovered this when I gave a reading and I struggled to fight back tears, as the audience began laughing, because the unintended consequences of my heavy-handed management of details produced an amusingly absurd character. Afterwards, people in the audience commented on my comic timing and sense of humor. I felt like a fraud because I had screwed up.

I am reminded once again of that story because I truly screwed up something in my garden a couple of weeks ago. I spotted an odd caterpillar in my garden munching happily on a green pepper plant. I plucked it off, and although I sometimes take creatures into nearby woods and release them, I found a giant hole in a pepper that was almost ripe so I killed it. I felt bad after doing that because I hate to kill anything. 

Imagine my feelings this week when I happened to read an article and see pictures of Monarch Butterflies and realized I had “murdered” a Monarch in the caterpillar stage. I feel terrible about this.  So I decided to write this to educate others.  Maybe we can save a couple of butterflies.  Read the article below for more information. 


  About Jan Bowman

Jan Bowman’s fiction has appeared in numerous publications including, Roanoke Review, Big Muddy, The Broadkill Review, Third Wednesday, Minimus, Buffalo Spree (97), Folio, The Potomac Review, Musings, Potato Eyes and others. Glimmer Train named a recent story as Honorable Mention in the November 2012 Short Story Awards for New Writers. Winner of the 2011 Roanoke Review Fiction Award, her stories have been nominated for Pushcart Prizes, Best American Short Stories, a Pen/O’Henry award and a recent story was a finalist in the 2013 Phoebe Fiction Contest; another was a 2012 finalist in the “So To Speak” Fiction Contest. She is working on two collections of short stories while shopping for a publisher for a completed story collection. She has nonfiction publications in Trajectory and Pen-in-Hand. She writes a weekly blog of “Reflections” on the writing life and posts regular interviews with writers and publishers.   Learn more at or


The Life Cycle(s) of a Monarch Butterfly
Monarch butterflies go through four stages during one life cycle, and through four generations in one year. It’s a little confusing but keep reading and you will understand. The four stages of the monarch butterfly life cycle are the egg, the larvae (caterpillar), the pupa (chrysalis), and the adult butterfly. The four generations are actually four different butterflies going through these four stages during one year until it is time to start over again with stage one and generation one.

In February and March, the final generation of hibernating monarch butterflies comes out of hibernation to find a mate. They then migrate north and east in order to find a place to lay their eggs. This starts stage one and generation one of the new year for the monarch butterfly.

In March and April the eggs are laid on milkweed plants. They hatch into baby caterpillars, also called the larvae. It takes about four days for the eggs to hatch. Then the baby caterpillar doesn’t do much more than eat the milkweed in order to grow. After about two weeks, the caterpillar will be fully-grown and find a place to attach itself so that it can start the process of metamorphosis. It will attach itself to a stem or a leaf using silk and transform into a chrysalis. Although, from the outside, the 10 days of the chrysalis phase seems to be a time when nothing is happening, it is really a time of rapid change. Within the chrysalis the old body parts of the caterpillar are undergoing a remarkable transformation, called metamorphosis, to become the beautiful parts that make up the butterfly that will emerge. The monarch butterfly will emerge from the pupa and fly away, feeding on flowers and just enjoying the short life it has left, which is only about two to six weeks. This first generation monarch butterfly will then die after laying eggs for generation number two.

The second generation of monarch butterflies is born in May and June, and then the third generation will be born in July and August. These monarch butterflies will go through exactly the same four stage life cycle as the first generation did, dying two to six weeks after it becomes a beautiful monarch butterfly.

The fourth generation of monarch butterflies is a little bit different than the first three generations. The fourth generation is born in September and October and goes through exactly the same process as the first, second and third generations except for one part. The fourth generation of monarch butterflies does not die after two to six weeks. Instead, this generation of monarch butterflies migrates to warmer climates like Mexico and California and will live for six to eight months until it is time to start the whole process over again.   [OMG - this is a terrible thing that I have done. And I am so very sorry.]  - 

--I just added this note: I saw two more caterpillars eating my parsley and basil this morning. I will leave them in peace with my hope they make it to Mexico and/or California.

It is amazing how the four generations of monarch butterflies works out so that the monarch population can continue to live on throughout the years, but not become overpopulated. Mother Nature sure has some cool ways of doing things, doesn’t she?

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  1. And on Saturday morning I found a third caterpillar munching away. So maybe one or more of them will make it to CA or South America or Mexico.

  2. Jan thank so much for sharing this story! I am a "butterfly" person and had no idea. Nature is so amazing... and so are you! I love your ability to shift your perspective so that you are now able to sacrifice your plants for the greater cause of the survival of butterflies!

    1. More Good News - on Tuesday I counted 4 caterpillars eating in my herb garden and they all look plump and happy.

  3. I don't think I've seen a Monarch Butterfly in years. They can eat all the herbs and mint they want in my yard if a few of them will hand around.

  4. A few years ago - we planted some butterfly friendly plants in the front yard and this year we had a bumper crop of all kinds of butterflies. So maybe try doing that to attract them initially.

  5. Here's an update - as of this morning I have counted five fat caterpillars (Monarch) eating my parsley in my herb garden. Wow! Munch on!

  6. Are you sure that the things eating your herbs are monarch caterpillars? I have always thought that they only eat milkweed.

  7. Yes. They'll eat some herbs too. The parsley pleased them.